Sometimes I have to ask myself why I care about particular issues when there is so much to be concerned with right now. The issues I find myself latching onto the most at the moment really don’t impact me. And that, oddly enough, is why I care about them.
I worry a great deal about the environment. On a normal day in a normal year under a normal presidency, the environment would be my primary concern. But in my mind, when I try to prioritize my concerns (because there are so many now), I tell myself that the environment impacts all of us. Scientists are fighting for this. The whole world (except the U.S.) is fighting for this. Most of us know we have to fight for this. My hope is that there are enough people fighting for this that if I’m focusing somewhere else for a little while, we’re still covered.
And I’m all about equal rights for everyone. Women, LGBT, African Americans, – everyone. That’s the basis of our country. It’s fundamental. But, again, there are whole movements behind these efforts. Needed movements. Strong movements. My hope is that they stay strong while at the moment I’m focused elsewhere.
Immigration doesn’t impact me much — not directly. It doesn’t impact a lot of us who were born here. That’s where my concern comes in. I worry that there is, in my opinion, a very important part of our society being overlooked. Forgotten.
I’m not sure immigrants have a movement behind them. They have support, especially when there is a blatant move like the travel ban. But when it’s not making the headlines every day, is there much concern around it? I don’t know.
For me, the immigration challenges we’re facing right now are a part of the bigger hate issue. Immigrants of all nationalities, but particularly Mexico and other Latin American countries, are seeing a lot of intolerance right now. And do they have a movement to support them? I don’t know. Maybe. I hope so, but I don’t see it.
And before anyone reprimands me for this, I don’t mean to stereotype immigrants as servers and cooks or minimum-wage earners. My company is filled with developers, engineers, brilliant people from all over the world. We have a diversified, immigrant-heavy team. It’s one of the things I like about my company.
But it’s the minimum-wage immigrants that I worry about. The ones who do the jobs we don’t even notice — until someone isn’t doing that job any more. The ones whose first language is not English and who speak in their native language when talking with family and friends rather than “our language.” The ones who don’t have a lot of voice in our society, especially not now.
I worry about the Hispanic woman who cleans the restrooms at my office. Or the cafeteria cooks who make a mean BLT for me at lunch. Or the Asian ladies who ring up my BLT. These people who serve me with a friggin’ smile that I don’t get at many other places. I worry that no one is standing up for them. That they are forgotten in this mess of a political climate.
I worry that they go home and see the news and wonder if something will happen to them or someone in their families. I hope they don’t. I hope they are able to enjoy their lives despite the environment Trump has created. And I hope that my worry is unsubstantiated.
But that’s why I find myself caring so much about immigration, and especially immigration from south of the border. Mexico is our neighbor. They’re a good neighbor. And what are we doing? Building a wall. Pardoning someone who was basically guilty of hate crimes against Latinos. Rounding up students and calling them gang members. It’s ridiculous.
People just want a better life. That’s all. It’s not a great conspiracy. It’s not a threat. They’re not looking to steal jobs. They just want to be happy. The pursuit of happiness — isn’t that what we’re all about here? Did I miss the memo about that not being our motto any more?
What about working class whites? That’s the question that comes up when you talk about immigration. Well, I come from working class whites. I was a working class white and paid my way through college to become a salaried employee. And at my first few jobs, my salary was barely over minimum wage. If you counted the longer hours I worked, I’m not sure I was even making minimum wage.
So, I know working class whites. It’s what I am and it’s where I came from. And what I know is that few to no working class whites are willing to clean bathrooms in an office building. Or run the register in a cafeteria. Or, even if they are, they’re not willing to drive into the city where these jobs are located. And they aren’t willing to live in a tiny, low-rent apartment to make ends meet on minimum wages.
I can say this because I’m not sure I’m willing to do those things any more — not while I have a choice. I’ve also spoken with white working class folks who aren’t willing to do these things — not for minimum wage.
Now, if I was forced to choose to do those things or be dependent on government subsidies (or some similar means of existence), then yes, I would likely be willing to do this work and live in a low-rent apartment. Ultimately, I know I would have a choice to make. I might not like that choice, but I would make it. And that’s where we are in America. And where the working white class finds itself at the moment.
It appears to me that working class whites aren’t taking responsibility for their own lives. It sounds cold, but it’s true. We have more opportunities than someone coming to this country as an immigrant. It’s much easier for us to get into training and schools to improve our skills. We can easily get driver’s license that allow us to travel for a job.
Times are changing. Jobs are changing. More jobs are located in the cities than in rural America and that’s not going to change. And that has nothing to do with politics or immigration. Companies locate plants where they have accessibility to a qualified workforce within a certain distance of drive time. That’s how plant decisions are made. There are too few workers in rural America. And they often aren’t willing to learn new skills for the more modern types of jobs that are available.
When the world is changing around you, you can’t expect that the government is going to fix all of your problems for you. Are we at a point where the government should look at helping with this situation? Yes, probably so. But that will take time.
In the meantime, you can’t expect that magically things will just resolve themselves. You have to be willing to make some effort. Make some changes. You have to move. Drive a little further. Learn new skills. Work in a different type of work. You have to take responsibility for your life.
You have to pursue your own happiness. Happiness doesn’t just come to you. Immigrants are willing to move to another country, where they have to learn to some degree another language and risk intolerance. That’s a lot of sacrifice for a minimum wage job, but yet they do it.
I’m not picking on working class whites. I’m being realistic. When I first got out of college, I didn’t plan on moving to the city. I thought I would live in my hometown and work nearby. But I couldn’t. There were no jobs. I had to move or not work … and quite honestly, my parents made not working a non-option. So, I know it’s not easy. I know it’s a little scary. I know you may have to make decisions that you don’t want to make. But you either have to make those decisions or live with the consequences. Right now the white working class is living with consequences.
But working class whites can’t blame immigration for their troubles. And they can’t hate another human being for taking a job they most likely don’t want. And they can’t hate someone for wanting the exact same things they want — a better life for themselves and their families. And I hope they don’t hate me, who was once one of them, for telling them that they have to change if they want their situation to change.